Thousands showed up at the Johnsonville Cemetery on Wednesday, March 11, to commemorate Decoration Day, the public holiday set aside by law to remember the dead and celebrate their contributions to society while they were alive.
Amid the somber nature of the holiday, the serious tear-jerking business of tending to the graves of dearly departed family and friends had a series of comical highlights to contend with.
Decoration Day, which comes on the second Wednesday in March every year, is set aside as a day to remember the remember the dead by especially giving their resting places (i.e graves, cemeteries) a facelift from all the overgrown grass, garbage, vandalism and wear and tear from the elements.
However emotionally the day may start, it usually turns out to be one jamboree of a clean-up day among total strangers, featuring white wash, paint, a little masonry, grass cutting, flowers (both real and fake), and prayers. But then, after the work is done, there must be food and drink to lighten the heart. And, for many who go, doing the “item 13” (refreshments) right there at the graves is no big deal.
A group of youth in their early twenties who claimed and demonstrated that they are drug addicts went to the cemetery to white-wash the grave of their deceased friend whom they called TIP The acronym they also carved out on the grave and said they were happy that there is a special national holiday during which they can visit the grave of their deceased friend and smoke and drink as they white-washed the grave.
“My name is Emmanuel Smith and these guys are part of my crew. We do plenty of things in common. We smoke together, we eat together and some times we sleep together. We are a united family,” one of the young men told the Daily Observer.
When asked why he and his colleagues were happy as they white-washed the grave of their lost companion, he said, TIP was their hero and, as such, no tears are needed over his grave.
“He died last year (2019) and when we come here, all we do is those things we used to do together so his spirit can be happy with us. Heroes don’t die,” Smith said as his colleagues cheered him up.
Smith told the Daily Observer that he and his colleagues have been together in their bond for nearly five years and he sees nothing that will pull them apart.
“We are big boys now. We don’t care about parents. We are men now and we run the street our own way,” he said, adding, “We don’t fear death because we were born to die.”
Rev. Joseph Yeanay, who lost his mother to hypertension (pressure) a few years ago, admonished those around him at the Johnsonville Cemetery not to fear death, but a life without a purpose for God.
“For we are told that death is not for the believers in God, we need not to fear it. What we should fear is living a life without a purpose for God. He created us for a purpose and we should live our lives for a purpose, mainly to serve him,” Yeanay said as his listeners nodded.
He said death is like sleep, a long-time sleep aimed at re-birthing a person in order to inhabit the Kingdom of God.
Several other people who went to decorate the graves of their loved ones had their stories about decoration day to narrate.
Some cried bitterly in remembrance of the roles their loved ones played before their passing while some, as partly in the case of young Smith and his colleagues, had some time of merry making.
There were lots of food, including snacks and bowls of rice and stew, along with cold water, soft drinks and gallons of palm wine and cane juice for sale, which many did not hesitate to indulge.
Decoration Day is a national holiday in Liberia which came into existence on October 24, 1916, through an act of Legislature. Nationwide, as all offices and businesses were ordered suspended by law, cemeteries across the country are inundated with people who went out to decorate the graves of their lost loved ones.